US President Donald Trump says he has no intention of meeting Iranian officials on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York this week, following an attack on a Saudi oil plant.
"Nothing is ever off the table completely, but I have no intention of meeting with Iran... That doesn't mean it doesn't happen. I'm a very flexible person," Trump said on Sunday as he was leaving Washington for Texas.
"I would meet if they wanted," Trump said hours later in Texas. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei last week said his government would not meet the US until Washington "repents".
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is already in New York and gave an interview to CBS News in which he denied that Tehran was behind the Saudi attack.
"We are confident that if the United Nations carries out an impartial investigation the outcome will be that it was not launched from Iran," Zarif said. "They were not Iranian-backed attacks," he insisted.
Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed the oil plant attack but the US has doubted that narrative.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is directly blaming Iran - a lone stand within the US administration, with Trump being more cautious - calling the attacks an "act of war". He gave interviews on Sunday, including to ABC News and CBS News, to stress his line.
"They conducted an attack on an oil field ... one of the largest attacks on the global energy supply in history," Pompeo said.
"Apparently, the Iranians are bloodthirsty and looking for war. President Trump and I, we're looking for a diplomatic resolution to this," he said.
Pompeo said it was "beneath the dignity" of anyone to believe Zarif. "I don't know why anyone listens to the Iranian foreign minister," he said.
The US has sanctioned Zarif, who is among the many Iranian leaders facing restrictions, and the delegation from Tehran in New York is bare-bones, apparently after advisers and staff were not granted visas, according to the CBS interview.
The US secretary said the attack on Saudi Arabia's oil plant was "likely" launched from Iran and rejected the Houthi's claim. "This was Iran through and through."
Trump last week slapped new sanctions on Iran, targeting the central bank and the country's wealth fund, in what was described as an effort to further cut off the flow of capital to the country.
The administration has been reimposing sanctions for a year, ever since Trump unilaterally withdrew from a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and world powers. The sanctions, especially on the oil and financial sectors, have been badly hurting Iran's economy.
"We are well on our way to forcing the Iranian regime to ultimately make the decision to become a normal nation. That's all we've ever asked," Pompeo said. The US says it is using "maximum pressure" against Iran.
The US president last week also sent more troops to build up air and missile defences around Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Zarif said the dispatch of forces was just "posturing". The top Iranian diplomat called for an end to the Saudi-led war in Yemen.
Within the US, there is a majority in congress for ending US support for the Saudis in Yemen, amid a mounting humanitarian toll, including a famine. Trump has used his veto power to override lawmakers and continue support to Riyadh's war on Yemen.
Opponents of Trump are increasingly voicing concern about a potential war with Iran.
The president has said he is keen to exercise "restraint" on Iran and sees that as a source of strength, rejecting claims he has been weak on Tehran by not launching strikes, both this past week and during a flare up over the summer in the Strait of Hormuz.
Trump ally Lindsey Graham, a hawkish Republican senator, appeared on Fox News to urge the president to "put on the table a military option".
Australian Associated Press